The act of collecting souvenirs from places we visit has probably existed since the first humans explored a foreign place and returned home. Those original souvenirs may have simply been food, tools, or simply a unique and beautiful object like a gemstone. Not only is the act of bringing souvenirs home age-old, but it can also enhance the lives of our friends and family be exposing them to an aspect of a culture you got to experience.
A problem that ethical travelers face nowadays is the fact that most souvenirs are mass manufactured in factories which pay no heed to their workers or the nature of the materials they use. Avoiding these souvenirs is important, but it’s more important to find alternative souvenirs with a more ethical background.
Whether you’re going on a Costa Rica vacation package, or a self-guided tour, here are some tips for sourcing ethical souvenirs to take home.
Costa Rica is famous for it’s coffee, and most tourists leave the country with several bags to share with friends and family back home. Although a common mistake that people make is buying the Britt brand which have the biggest marketing department and therefore seem like the “best” brand to unwitting tourists. Instead of this, you should try the following.
With countless coffee plantations all over Costa Rica, it’s hard not to find yourself on a tour seeing just how this beautiful bean finds its way to your cup. While this generally may be a more expensive option, we highly recommend going on one of these tours (or several) to learn more about coffee and buy directly from the source. If you’re on a Costa Rica vacation package, you may find that you’re already booked in for a plantation tour.
Ask the Locals
If you’re not interested in visiting a plantation, or simply can’t afford it, a better option may be to ask any ticos or ticas you meet along the way what their favorite coffee brand is. You should also look out at the markets for locally produced beans, as supporting families is a great way to purchase ethical souvenirs.
Chorreador de Café
If you want to go one step further for that special someone, you may consider bringing home a Chorreador de Café, or a Costa Rican coffee-maker. These are simply drip filter coffee systems which utilize a wooden frame, a sock, and usually a blue metal tin. Find a locally-made one at the market rather than purchasing a mass produced one from the supermarket to ensure it’s ethically sound.
Those who like spicy food will love the range of hot sauces which occupy the shelves of all Costa Rican supermarkets. While Costa Rica may not be famous for their hot sauces, they do have a great climate for growing delicious peppers, and may one day be known and celebrated for their spice.
While there are countless producers of hot sauce in Costa Rica, as with anywhere in the world, not all of them are equally ethical. Our favorite ethical hot sauce is Shade Time, which is produced sustainably and gives back 5% of its profits to the La Fortuna Orphanage.
This isn’t the only ethical hot sauce though, be sure to shop around and to do your due diligence.
An age-old souvenir which is always sure to impress some people is alcohol. Guaro is the hard-spirit of Costa Rica, and is a sugar cane liquor which is similar to vodka in taste, although usually only around 30% (60 proof). As it is a spirit, you may be better off going with the generic Cacique brand Guaro, although you can purchase it from a smaller supplier for more ethical shopping.
If you want to really impress your friends or relatives back home, bring back a bottle of hot sauce along with your bottle of Guaro to make Chilliguaro shots. These are shots of Guaro mixed with tomato juice and hot sauce, and can be considered a more simple version of a Bloody Mary.
Not only are these some of the most common souvenirs of Costa Rica, they are a symbol of their important place in the history of this great nation. Locally known as carreta, they are often painted as their traditional full-scale counterparts were, with bright colors depicting the flora and fauna of Costa Rica. These ox carts can be found in almost every store across Costa Rica, but we recommend visiting markets to find one made by hand, and encourage you to tip the vendor for their exquisite work.
The Best Souvenirs are Memories
Whether you’re on a honeymoon or a Costa Rica vacation package, the most important souvenirs to you will be the experiences you have and memories you make. Remember to try and incorporate ethical shopping into your travels to truly benefit everyone involved.